Hate Crimes in Cyberspace

Privacy and Security, Copyright and Trademark and Intellectual Property

Article Snapshot


Danielle Citron


Harvard University Press, 2014


Some people use the Internet to harass and threaten others, revealing victims’ real names and addresses. These attacks result in serious harms such as loss of employment, assault, and suicide. Police and prosecutors are often unwilling to help.

Policy Relevance

Sites that encourage cyber stalkers should be liable for illegal content. Internet intermediaries like Google should support social norms that discourage abuse.

Main Points

  • About 60-70% of cyber abuse, including vivid and graphic threats of assault, targets women; victims have been assaulted in “real life” when their names and addresses are revealed.
  • About 80-90% of employers use search engines to research job applicants and reject applicants based on this research; applicants have no chance to refute false claims posted by abusers.
  • Attackers manipulate search engines to ensure that abusive posts appear first in search results.
  • Most states and the federal government ban cyberstalking and harassment to some extent, but authorities are often unable or unwilling to enforce these laws.
  • Banning anonymity online would harm free speech, but site operators should reveal the identities of those who commit abuse.
  • Civil claims against abusers could include intentional infliction of emotional distress, copyright violations, and defamation, but victims hesitate to sue to avoid publication of their names.
  • Legal reforms effective against cyber abuse would include:
    • Criminalizing revenge porn;
    • Amending civil rights law as California has done to reach cyberattacks that interfere with a victim’s right to employment and education.
  • Internet service providers and site operators are immune from liability for illegal content posted by users, but sites that encourage cyber stalking or revenge porn should lose this immunity.
  • Safety teams like Facebook and YouTube should change their complaint process to prioritize removal of abusive material.


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